Lights have shone out around the coast of Ireland every night, without fail, for centuries. Each light is different, with a distinctive pattern of flashes that becomes part of the night landscape for people living nearby. For mariners they are landmarks that light the way home.
At night sailors would scan the horizon looking for the flashes to pinpoint exactly where they were. One flash every two seconds would mean that they were near Valentia Island off the coast of Kerry on the west of Ireland. Four flashes every twenty seconds meant that they were further north, approaching Loop Head in County Clare. By day they would look for ‘daymarks’ the unique combination of colours painted on the lighthouse tower.
In those days the lights were a lifeline and the lighthouses and their keepers were vital to the international community of sailors. It would be easy to imagine all that has changed in the modern world of radio, radar and GPS. Yes, of course there have been changes in technology, but the lighthouses are still a vital aid to navigation for all the ships and sailors in Irish waters. The long-standing motto of the Commissioners of Irish Lights (Irish Lights), In Salutem Omnium or For the Safety of All, is as apt today as it was when Irish Lights was founded in 1867.
The vital work of keeping the lights working night after night is now done remotely. The lighthouses are no longer manned, they are monitored and controlled by people looking at screens, often many miles away. Today’s lighthouse staff, like modern sailors, have an array of screens giving constantly updated information on the lights and how they are functioning.
The data they receive is not just concerned with the lighthouses but with all the Aids to Navigation around the coast. Lighthouses are part of an information web for modern shipping. Because of their prime locations many lighthouses house transmitters for the most sophisticated and up-to-date technology such as DGNSS (Differential Global Navigation Satellite System), Racon or AIS (Automatic Identification System).
The technology in Ireland’s lighthouses has changed enormously during the twenty first century. The nights of pacing the stairs and winding the weights to keep the light blazing have gone, but the commitment to maintaining the lights and the building that house them is as strong as ever. The Commissioners of Irish Lights and the lighthouses they manage will continue to keep mariners around the coast of Ireland safe and secure for many many years to come.